Eco-Friendly on a Budget

As the calendar turns to April, our focus turns to environmental stewardship. Later this month, on Friday April 22nd, the World will observe Earth Day 2016. In observance, the COMPASS blog will feature perspectives all about being environmentally friendly on a budget and our stewardship of the Earth.

eco friendlyThe first post in this series will take up the idea that “We Are What We Eat.” In addition to this, other reflections will include thoughts pertaining to: the stewardship of recycling; sustainability; community agriculture; the work of restoring creation; as well as water stewardship. If you would like to share a post or reflection within this theme, please let me know as we are always looking for more perspectives to share as part of COMPASS and our shared conversation about faith and finances.

To begin our conversation, consider these questions:

  • Do you think about where the food you eat comes from?
  • Do you actively recycle in your home and office?
  • Do you produce more things that go into recycling each week, or the garbage?
  • Do you leave lights on in rooms that you are not seated in? How about water running while you are brushing your teeth?
  • How might the answers to these questions be informed by your faith?

A Personal Confession

In asking these questions, I have to confess that I often come up a bit short. I don’t always eat the healthiest diet, nor always look for the most sustainable source of food. I do occasionally leave lights on in rooms that I am not in, and from time to time catch myself leaving the water running while no longer actively using the faucet. Even with the ability to recycle, I still think my wife Allison and I produce more garbage than recycling.

I work hard to recycle both at home and in the office, and this is made easier by living in neighborhoods and cities where recycling is a priority. However, I have come to learn through traveling, that this is not always the case across the country and world in all communities.

The way we care for our environment matters to me, because I believe that we are called to be stewards of creation. In Genesis we are reminded that God has created all, and invites us to participate with God in caring for it and working with it. When we lose sight of this, when we don’t show care for it, we are all impacted. Not only does it negatively impact the quality of our planet, it shows disrespect for the beauty that God has created for us to live and work in.

Environmental Stewardship on a Budget

How we live faithfully in this way on a budget sometimes may mean a bit more of a cost. Choosing to eat healthier may not always be the cheaper option. Recycling may not always be more budget friendly than garbage. But at least, utility costs are usually positively impacted when you turn the lights off as well as the faucet off. And, if you don’t mind it in the summer, you can turn the temperature up on your thermostat to save energy during the day, as well as down a bit during the winter to cut down on heating costs.

As we take up these questions this month, I invite you to share your perspective, and I look forward to the conversation together.

timothy headshotAbout the Author: Timothy Siburg is the Communications Associate for the Ecumenical Stewardship Center and focuses especially on the center’s COMPASS initiative focused on creating conversations and resources for faith and finances among younger Adults and Millennials. Timothy also currently serves as a congregational mission developer, among a few other roles and blogs regularly on his own blog as well.

Image Credit: Eco Friendly

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Managing Debt: Loans and Money in March

As the calendar turns to March, COMPASS is focusing on debt management this month. You will hear perspectives from financial advisors, debt experts, and faith based financial voices as well. As we set the stage for this conversation, it is important to briefly articulate some of the different types of debt we might face.

debtCredit Card Debt

A couple of years ago, about 6 out of every 10 millennials did not have a credit card. Since then, that ratio has changed somewhat. One thing that does seem clear is that millennials as a generational group lack some credit card knowledge, especially as they relate to credit scores.

Student Loan Debt

Among Millennials, student loan debt is a major generational challenge because of the well-documented increase in the cost of education over the past two decades. Natalie Kitroeff recently noted “Four Ways Student Debt is Wreaking Havoc on Millennials.” Natalie notes that:

  • Student debt seems to dampen home buying
  • Young people are delaying starting families
  • Millennials are saving less than they could be
  • College loans make it hard to be financially healthy

How do we manage these and other kinds of debt? How do we faithfully give and live when facing the reality of debt?

These are questions that there aren’t easy answers to. For example, most of the above observations are true for my wife Allison and me. We have found that it is most helpful to remember the reasons for the debt in the first place.

We have yet to buy, or even look for a home because of our educational and vocational plans as we prepare to be a pastor (Allison) and a rostered leader in ministry (me). We have taken on this debt largely because we believe that our education matters, and that we are called to serve in capacities where an education will be invaluable. So in this sense, these loans are and remain an investment on our part in our present and future.

Conversations about Debt

Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director of The Free Methodist Church in Canada

Sandy Crozier, Stewardship Development Director of The Free Methodist Church in Canada

This month COMPASS is beginning a new initiative offering a monthly conversation in real-time on the month’s theme. The first conversation will center on topics related to debt and how to manage it. It will be held on Tuesday March 22nd at 8pm EDT/5pm PDT. Sandy Crozier will be our topic leader. Sign up for the Live Chat at https://stewardshipresources.org/compass-live-chats. If you have questions that you would like to discuss, please let us know in the comments, via Facebook or Twitter, or by email.

What questions do you have about debt and managing it?

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Image Credit: Debt

Talking about Faith and Finances- Purchasing a New Home

During September, the COMPASS blog is digging deeper into the topic of conversations about money by sharing different perspectives, questions, and approaches. As we continue the series today, I am excited to welcome my friends Pastors Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich to the blog. They have very recently purchased their first home which led me to want to hear their story. Today’s post is the second in a two-part series which focuses on their recent experience of buying a new home. 

Timothy (T): Amanda and Jeremy, why were you looking for a new home?

Amanda and Jeremy with their Realtor outside of their new home

Amanda and Jeremy with their Realtor outside of their new home

Jeremy (J): Well, we have been renting a house since we arrived in West Texas a little over a year ago when Amanda and I moved here to start our first calls as pastors. We wanted to make the investment in a new home for a number of reasons, including potentially expanding our family.

T: What did you learn when running the numbers and doing your research?

J: When running the numbers, we realized that the cost of renting for two years was basically the same as buying a new house and making a monthly mortgage payment for two years, and then selling it after two years.

Amanda (A): We also realized that we could save over $400 per month by buying a home rather than renting, including the cost for utilities and the mortgage. We live in a relatively inexpensive housing market with lots of good options, which made searching for our first home fun and full of possibilities.

J: We determined that after three years of buying our first house, we would save about $10,000 that first year, and then nearly $30,000 after the fourth year. The long term potential savings for us was a big reason to decide to buy a new home.

T: Were there any other factors in your decision to buy a home, rather than rent?

A: There is another element in our decision. In ministry, pastors often move at least a few times in their careers, and of course we have no idea how long we’ll be here until we might feel a call by God to some other context. We feel though that by buying a home, rather than renting, we are demonstrating to our congregations and the community that we are investing in the area for the longer term.

J: As we discussed, planning for the future is important for us. We’re still learning, and have not always been the best at financial planning, but we are working at it.

A: And we’re trusting God, and grateful that we are surrounded by such gifted friends, family, and colleagues who help us along in our life, vocations, and continued discernment about our faith and finances.

T: What lessons or tips would you like to share about buying a home and talking about faith and finances?

Gratitude overflowing- New Homeowners Amanda and Jeremy with the previous owner of their home (and the previous owner's family).

Gratitude overflowing- New Homeowners Amanda and Jeremy with the previous owner of their home (and the previous owner’s family).

A: It’s important to take time and be grateful. It can be so easy to get caught up in life, and feelings of scarcity, of not having enough. In buying the house, questions of ‘what if’ about the air conditioner, and water heater potentially needing to be replaced, or about other things that might need to be fixed came up a lot. I could have gotten buried in those types of questions and thoughts. But I’m grateful that some wonderful flooring workers helped us learn more about our new neighborhood. They also helped us take stock, and see that our new home is really a good house. This helped me remember to give thanks.

J: We have come a long way from starting out in our first place, that one bedroom apartment at seminary in Minnesota.  I’m still so grateful for that time, and especially our fun and frugal occasional $5.00 pizza dinners with friends. We’re also very grateful for all of the scholarship support that helped us get through school, and for the faith and gifts of others, who have given to the ELCA Fund for Leaders, people who have given freely because of their faith. We would love to pay it forward, and hope that by having our own home, we can make that happen in some way.

T: Do you have any other thoughts, questions, or insights you would like to share?

J: The biggest question for me seems to be, how do we steward that which we have been entrusted with?

A: We are grateful for the opportunity to have a house, after starting our marriage in a one-bedroom apartment in seminary. We are also grateful for all the support that we have received in the past from so many different people, congregations, and groups. We hope to be able to pay it forward.

J: We are also tithers, and we hope to be able to distribute resources and gifts to more places and needs.

J: Buying a home is more than a purchase for us. We believe we are investing in something. We are committing, at least for the near term, to being rooted in one place. And we continue to work and hope that we can be able to be good stewards of all that we have received.

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

Pastors Amanda & Jeremy and their dog Lola

About the Interviewees: Amanda and Jeremy Ullrich are a clergy couple in West Texas, both serving their first congregational calls as ordained pastors. Their family currently includes their wonderful dog, Lola. Together they are tackling the world’s largest puzzle, which includes approximately 33,600 puzzle pieces, because “everything is bigger in Texas,” and “why not go big or go home.” While attending Luther Seminary, they lived next door to Allison and Timothy Siburg, and that was the start of a beautiful friendship.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Becoming a Home Owner

It is our privilege to welcome Matt DeBall to the blog as a guest blogger. Today he offers his personal experiences and reflections about “Becoming a Home Owner” as part COMPASS’ current series of posts about ownership, renting and mortgages.

When my wife and I were first married, we didn’t know where we wanted to live. After working part-time jobs through college, we were both in search of full-time employment for the first time, and were looking for work within 25 miles of school. The factors of employment location and the uncertainty of where to settle down led us to start renting a townhouse near school.

For our first year of marriage, renting served us well. Starting out with a rental property rather than buying one helped us to save money, become established in full-time jobs, and pinpoint areas where we wanted to live more permanently. Since we both grew up in nice, medium-sized homes with both parents and one or two siblings, our goal was to buy something similar in preparing to have a family of our own someday. As we looked at homes, we found that fully updated homes of the size we wanted were either near the top or out of our price range, so we narrowed our search to homes that were structurally sound but needed updating.

Our new home with our dog Watson, stealing the show.

Our new home with our dog Watson, stealing the show.

Having both rented a townhouse and now owning our own home, there are two reasons why I prefer owning. First, in our own home, we are able to personalize our living space and make it something we’re excited about. As we rented, we were restricted by the guidelines of the landlord in the ways that we could change the colors, décor, and layout. Now that we’re in a space of our own, we are able to paint, decorate, and update however we’d like. There’s much more freedom in changing a home when the property belongs to you rather than someone else. Second, buying a home feels more like an investment than renting. While we appreciated the lower risk of renting, we recognized that paying a mortgage for a house was only slightly more expensive than our renting cost. Spending money to buy a house and pay a mortgage gave us a return for our investment.

Since going through the process of buying a house, we have a few suggestions about mortgages:

1) Find a mortgage company you can trust – This is not to say that mortgage companies are deceptive, but each one helps first-time home-buyers slightly differently, and one company’s practices may suit you better than another. You will probably be paying money to your mortgage company for at least ten years, and having a good relationship can make the buying process run more smoothly and prevent headaches afterwards.

2) Plan to pay well within your budget – Whether applying for a 15 year or 30 year loan, plan to pay for a house within your means. I’ve heard the guideline that no more than 40% of your income should be paid toward a mortgage payment, but if you are able to pay considerably less you’ll have more money to add improvements to the house and plan for upcoming, unplanned expenses.

3) Keep the extra mortgage insurance in mind – Especially for young couples who are still paying off student loans, putting a down payment on a house for 20% of its value will be rather difficult. However, a lower down payment is possible but typically involves the extra expense of mortgage insurance. While this isn’t much, it is an added expense that will drop off once a certain percentage of the mortgage is paid. Paying this off sooner rather than later will save you a good chunk of change.

4) Make an extra payment each year – We’ve heard the suggestion on several occasions to pay a little extra toward our mortgage each year. This can either include adding extra in each monthly payment or choosing to make one extra payment at the beginning or end of the year. By paying more toward your mortgage each year, this will help knock down the incurred interest on your loan and decrease the timeline for paying off your loan.

Whether choosing to rent or buy a home, there are always risks and difficulties involved. Whenever making important decisions about finances, it has been very helpful for me to remember that everything belongs to the Lord, and that our ultimate trust should be in God not in money. While we may change jobs or move to another place, we are always secure and at home in the love of God.

Matt DeBallAbout the Author: Matt DeBall serves as an assistant to Donor Relations and Communications for the Church of the Brethren. In pursuit of a Master of Divinity from Northern Seminary, Matt is passionate about personal and congregational stewardship and emphasizing how Scripture is relevant for today. He lives with his wife (Chelsea) and their Welsh Corgi (Watson) in northern Illinois.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.

Millennials, Renting & Home Ownership

Some reflections by Timothy Siburg

Growing up, this might have been a sort of dream house I envisioned. What might your dream house look like?

Growing up, this might have been a sort of dream house I envisioned. What might your dream house look like?

In junior high, I loved math. I couldn’t get enough of Algebra and Geometry. I look back fondly on a project where my classmates and I used geometry, algebra and pre-calculus to design our dream houses. I think everyone’s dream house was some crazy sized mansion with sport courts, beach access, and its own movie theater. Mine was no different. As a seventh grader I imagined my home someday would be that mansion of sorts far bigger than the nice home I grew up in. My, how times have changed.

Fast forward about fifteen years, I’m a married millennial with a couple graduate degrees. Together my wife and I are renting our second apartment since being married. I don’t think this is a completely abnormal experience for people about our age.

Some of my friends are proud home owners. I’m proud of them of being able and willing to make that investment. At the same time, many other friends live in apartments, or share space with their families or friends as roommates. Some other friends who have graduate degrees have gone “back home” to live with their parents in order to save some money and work while looking and wondering what the next chapter of their life will look like.

This wide range of perspectives speaks to a growing norm in our economy. It’s becoming more and more common for people to need to move (and often) for work, and because the average person will work in more than ten different jobs in their lifetime, it’s no longer a held assumption for all millennials and young adults that they will own a home.

A look inside my wife's and my first apartment.

A look inside my wife’s and my first apartment.

Some suggest this is because young adults view renting as better than owning. I am not sure that this is actually the case. I think it has more to do with a desire to be able to be more mobile, or a sense that one’s life situation is far from concrete in their current setting.

Someday my wife and I would like to own a home. Maybe that day will be coming sooner rather than later? It’s not likely to come though until our job situations are a bit more stable. Together as a couple we have discerned that if we can make it work with our budget and savings, we are okay renting for now. Long term it would be nice to have a sort of small or medium sized home base. But we both love to travel- for work and pleasure, so we don’t think we’ll need the larger sort of house I grew up in.

It’s a little sad to think that we can’t envision living in as nice a home as the one we grew up in. But at the same time, the idea from prior generations that the size of your home represents your status in life and wealth doesn’t really appeal to us. The size of our home doesn’t really have a high value for us. It’s more important to be able to give, live and serve out of which God has entrusted us. My sense is that this may be true for many others of our generation.

What do you think? What are your thoughts and experiences regarding renting and owning?

Image CreditDream Home.

About the author: Timothy Siburg currently serves as a Communications Associate for Ecumenical Stewardship Center and the COMPASS Initiative. He is happily married to his wife Allison, holds a couple MA degrees, and currently calls Minnesota home. You can read more about him and some of the other questions he wrestles with at his own blog.

This blog is a component of the Ecumenical Stewardship Center’s COMPASS initiative to engage young adults in conversations about faith and finances. Like what you see and want to know/do more? Visit the COMPASS web page and join the COMPASS community on Facebook.